‘A drug-free life is possible’

2018-04-19 06:00
The staff of Somerset West NPO Help-Me-Network Community Service Provider believe people abusing substances can change. They are (from left) Regan Wentzel, Debbie Bell, Kenneth Bingham and founder Gerard Thomas. Alicia Cornelius was absent went the photo was absent.Photo: Tasmin Cupido

The staff of Somerset West NPO Help-Me-Network Community Service Provider believe people abusing substances can change. They are (from left) Regan Wentzel, Debbie Bell, Kenneth Bingham and founder Gerard Thomas. Alicia Cornelius was absent went the photo was absent.Photo: Tasmin Cupido

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“Assisting in building a healthier community by providing a service to people dependent on substances to enable them to live a drug-free life.”

This is the express mission of a Somerset West-based NPO which provides specialist treatment of addictive disorders.

The Help-Me-Network Community Service Provider (HMN CSP) has helped 1 200 clients and their families over the last six years, so it is well on its way to fulfilling its mission.

After realising the dire need for the prevention of substance abuse and rehabilitating those in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction, the organisation was founded by managing director Gerard Thomas in June 2006. The qualified teacher from the Helderberg, who was unemployed at the time, was assisting a doctor with the rehabilitation of people.

“Many people were being turned away as they did not have the money for the treatment,” he recalled, “and I realised there was a need for an organisation where people could receive expert help.”

With substance abuse being directly linked to socio-economic issues such as criminality and unemployment in underprivileged communities, organisations such as HMN CSP are a welcome source of solace to families of those trapped in the clutches of substance abuse. It is also the only facility which treats both youths and adults in the basin.

According to Thomas, a study conducted by the Trimbos Institute in 2011 showed an increase in the incidence of tik, heroin and other substances in the Helderberg. He said: “These and similar studies as well as our experience clearly indicate there is a desperate need for treatment, and the motivation of hope that people can change their lives for the better.”

With the addition of two directors, Debbie Bell and Regan Wentzel, in 2011, the organisation was registered with the Department of Social Development and cleared to receive departmental funding.

HMN CSP set up office at the Twin Oaks Centre in Main Road, Somerset West and soon received referral clients from the department, courts, churches, schools and other organisations from areas in the basin.

“People started hearing about the Help-Me-Network through word-of-mouth and the clients started coming to the centre,” Thomas said.

Councillors and facilitators follow an integrated approach, which includes awareness and prevention, early intervention, an out-patient treatment programme, aftercare support and training and development. “The early intervention programme is mostly for people who are at the experimenting stage,” Thomas explained.

“A minimum six one-on-one and group sessions are facilitated.

“The out-patient treatment programme is for those abusing substances, where clients follow a 12-week programme that includes one-on-one sessions and group sessions. For both programmes there is also counselling for family members.”

Group sessions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 09:00 to 14:00, while intakes are done from Monday to Thursday from 09:00 to 16:00.

HMN CSP assists more than 200 people annually, with qualified employees helping clients and their families. Bell is a registered counsellor, while Kenneth Bingham is a registered social worker. Wentzel and Alicia Cornelius are group facilitators, while Thomas runs the agency and manages its funding aspects.

These qualified personnel also offer training in motivational interviewing and substance abuse counselling at a cost, also visiting schools and other organisations for talks and presentations.

The organisation is proud of its success stories, Thomas declared. “A young woman came to us with her mother and she wanted to get clean,” he related. “She underwent the treatment, was reintegrated into the community and is studying towards a degree in social work.

“Another of our clients came to us when he had lost everything, including his family. He had also got involved in gangs. He completed the programme, was reunited with his family and now works as a manager in the corporate world.”

Despite receiving funding from the Department of Social Development and successfully applying for funding from the National Lottery Commission, Unitrade and Nussbaum Foundation, funding to continue delivering the service remains an uphill battle, Thomas added.

“A small financial contribution is asked when people come to Help-Me-Network, although we have never turned anyone away if they aren’t able to pay,” he pointed out.

“This is a necessary service for the community and we are here to help people. All donations are always welcome.”

The five-year plan of the organisation includes establishing a healing centre in a tranquil setting in the Helderberg, which includes an in-patient substance abuse facility and trauma counselling facility. “We believe that people can change, despite the myths doing the rounds that treatment doesn’t work,” Thomas said. “We are here to give people hope and to tell them they can be rehabilitated, by staff who believe in what they do and have the necessary experience.”

For more information or to donate, call 021 852 4234 or 081 562 6926. Or, visit the organisation’s Facebook page.

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